In recent weeks, those close to Donald Trump have noticed him routinely asking media figures, longtime friends, and his political advisers a new, very leading question, often asked in the exact same way: “What the hell is going on at Fox?"
According to three people who have independently spoken to Trump about Fox News over the past four weeks, the president has repeatedly asked that question. The president has also recently grilled certain Fox employees, including his confidant Sean Hannity, on this topic, one of these sources noted.
“I’ve been good to them,” Trump said in these last few weeks, according to another one of the three sources. The president, a remarkably avid consumer of cable news, sounded surprised and frustrated that he was seeing too many people to his liking on the network treating him “unfairly” on their shows.
The president has long demanded unflinching loyalty from Fox News and Fox Business talent and brass, and hasn’t been shy about making his disappointments public.
“.@FoxNews is at it again. So different from what they used to be during the 2016 Primaries, & before - Proud Warriors! Now new Fox Polls, which have always been terrible to me (they had me losing BIG to Crooked Hillary), have me down to Sleepy Joe,” Trump posted to Twitter on Friday, adding to his running list of tweeted grievances against Fox News this year.
Beyond his rage-tweeting, the president has in recent months reminded his senior aides, including his top economic adviser (and former CNBC star) Larry Kudlow, to branch out and make sure to keep doing more and more shows that aren’t on Fox News, according to two people with knowledge of Trump’s request.
The president has also told multiple associates that he sees Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch’s sons as “very liberal” and has quizzed former and current Fox personalities about what they think of them and if the Murdoch kids can be trusted. (Rupert Murdoch also doubles as a prominent informal adviser to Trump, often taking calls from the 45th president.)
The president’s obsession with monitoring Fox’s fealty and devotion to him might seem strange, or at least unnecessary to the casual observer. Fox News and sister channel Fox Business Network are bastions of pro-Trump propaganda, with primetime lineups crammed with vehement defenders of the president and MAGA diehards. Some of Fox’s marquee names—Hannity, Murdoch, Pete Hegseth, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, to name a few—regularly advise Trump on messaging and even policy, and the network has served as a pipeline of sorts for filling open jobs at the upper echelons of his administration.
Even before the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had kept close track of who at Fox was and was not subservient.
Sam Nunberg, who worked as a Trump political adviser at the start of the 2016 run, recounted to The Daily Beast how Trump would often use the same five-word phrase when addressing a Fox host he felt had crossed him: “I’m very surprised by you.” Nunberg recalled one instance when he was with the then-future president in his Trump Tower office in May 2015, a month before the campaign launch, while Trump was doing a phone interview with Fox’s Neil Cavuto.
By the end of their conversation, Trump believed Cavuto wasn’t taking him or his presidential ambitions seriously and devoted too much airtime asking him about his finances. After Trump hung up, he looked up at the aides in his office and said, “What the hell was that? We’re not doing him again,” according to Nunberg. (Trump, of course, would end up appearing with Cavuto again.)
But for all the drama and fuss, the dirty little secret is that a lot of people working at Fox News—on- and off-camera—aren’t worried about Trump’s hurt feelings and his latest mean tweets. In fact, some are pleased.
Many Fox News employees, from rank-and-file to higher-level staff, have been largely unbothered by President Trump’s public criticisms of the network, which are primarily directed at the organization’s “news side.”
Network insiders told The Daily Beast that president’s complaints have made little impact given the overwhelmingly positive coverage Trump has received across many Fox primetime shows throughout his presidency. Trump’s Fox News tweets have only generated buzz in the building when he’s targeted specific news personalities, including Leland Vittert and Shep Smith.
“I think the reaction is more of an eyeroll than anything,” one Fox News staffer told The Daily Beast.
Further, some in the building feel that the Trump attacks are actually useful, as they can be used as rebuttals against critics calling them out for being “state media” in the Trump era. In addition to the network’s more favorable coverage of the administration, Fox News has faced criticism over the cozy relationship between many of its stars and the president, as well as the revolving door between the network and the administration.
“Everybody wins,” said a Fox staffer on the opinion side.